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This April Fool’s Day, even Seattle historians are having fun with photos

Editor’s Note: Pacific NW Magazine’s weekly Backstory offers a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process or additional information that accompanies our cover story.. For this week’s April Fools’ Day cover story, Now & Then gathered original historical images to create 10 offbeat snapshots from yesteryear. (Keep your guard up against foolishness!)

You may remember the clever TV commercial that ended with a voice smashing a wine glass: “Is this live or is it Memorex?”

Photos too can deceive as much as they delight. Given today’s AI and deepfakes, we must therefore ask ourselves: can we really tell the difference between truth and fiction?

With that in mind, let’s consider these descriptions of particular photos from our past:

● An undated quintet of smiling men with flashlights standing around a pallet of 200 dead rats.

● A 1925 “men’s comfort station” at Fifth and Lenora, consisting simply of a long wooden ramp topped with hanging toilet paper rolls.

● A 20-foot-tall, 12-ton fruitcake at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

These are among the images that doesn’t make it into today’s collection. Wait, you will see those who did it.

It’s our way of celebrating April Fool’s Day. This year we had the chance to spin our “Now & Then” wheels on the slippery roads of history. In the resulting show, we seek to amaze, stun, mislead and amuse by presenting 10 wacky and hard-to-believe vignettes.

Our “Then” images come from 80 historians, archivists and history buffs who we asked to play the game. Some of their 100+ submissions defied reason and research. Others inspired the imagination.

We are all grateful to them and congratulate our many co-conspirators, including Nancy Guppy; Peter Steinbrück; Ben Laigo; Peggy Sturdivante; Elke Hautala; Ruth Pickering; and, from the King County Archives, Danielle Coyle.

Coyle has worked from its office on Fir Street in the Central Area since 2017. She and her colleagues served us doozies, which is no surprise. They know their job.

“It’s fun to get a question that’s like a scavenger hunt,” she says, “but the real goal is to guide people where they need to go. If you can point them in the right direction, they might stumble upon something they didn’t even know they were looking for.

We came across a fool’s bounty. And today, with our 10 photo reports, you can test your regional truth indicator. Is it sound, or just a big Wild Western lie?

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